Lebanese human rights lawyer Mohammad Sablouh facing increasing threats and intimidation

Lebanese human rights lawyer Mohammad Sablouh facing increasing threats and intimidation

Mohammad Sablouh is a Lebanese human rights lawyer registered at the Tripoli Bar Association. He assists victims of torture and arbitrary detention at both the domestic and international level. In 2021, he has been facing a growing number of threats and intimidation that are directly related to his professional activities as a lawyer.

Mohammad Sablouh is a human rights lawyer in Lebanon. He has been working on documenting cases and assisting victims of torture and arbitrary detention. Among other things, he filed several cases at the domestic level under the Anti-Torture Law No. 65. At the international level, he regularly provides international NGOs, including MENA Rights Group, with documented information, with the aim to file cases with the UN Special Procedures. In 2021, he has been facing a growing number of threats and intimidation that are directly related to his professional activities as a lawyer.

In 2020 and 2021, Sablouh provided Amnesty International with testimonies and information regarding violations committed against Syrians refugees in Lebanon. In March 2021, Amnesty International published a report on Syrian refugees arbitrarily detained on terrorism-related charges and tortured in Lebanon, which included information provided by Sablouh.
 
Following the publication of the report, the caretaker Minister of Justice convened a meeting on April 14, 2021, with heads of security agencies and members of the Beirut and Tripoli bar associations. Sablouh attended the meeting as rapporteur of the Prisons’ Committee of the Tripoli Bar Association. During the meeting, Sablouh mentioned that he had provided Amnesty International with information on human rights violations, including for their latest report, and that he had done so after exhausting all domestic avenues, to no avail. At the end of the meeting, the director of the General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, infromed Sablouh that he “should not communicate with international NGOs” and that doing so meant communicating with the “Zionist entity” and added that he was accused of committing “high treason”.

Few days later, Sablouh met the Adviser to the caretaker Minister of Interior and Municipalities for Prison Affairs, Brigadier General Fares Fares, and shared with him what Ibrahim had told him during the meeting. General Fares responded that it was “the least he could say” since following the Amnesty International report, the British ambassador in Lebanon met with Ibrahim and said his security agency had to put an end to human rights violations, otherwise they would stop funding them. He added that the Lebanese, including the security forces, were in a bad economic situation and that Sablouh was “seeking to stop the donations”.
 
Following this, Sablouh experienced increased impediments to his work as a lawyer, including threats and intimidation from the General Security and the Military Court’s Government Commissioner.
 
On August 15, 2021, Sablouh filed a case of ill-treatment under the anti-torture law after one of his clients was severely beaten the day before by military police officers in the Fakhr Al Din military barracks in Beirut, where he was detained. That day, the guards took away the food of detainees following the increase of prices of basic commodities in Lebanon. The detainees then started a strike and threw their spoons against the walls of their cells in sign of protest. After this, the guards stormed into the cells and started to physically assault detainees. Local NGOs, including Legal Agenda, reported the incident.
 
On September 23, the Military Court’s Government Commissioner Judge Fadi Al Akiki heard Sablouh’s client without him being present. They asked him to admit that Sablouh had fabricated the ill-treatment allegations and that he was not beaten, in exchange for his release. Under pressure, they made him sign a confession saying the allegations were fabricated by Sablouh.
 
On September 28, the Military Court sent a letter to the Tripoli Bar Association requesting that the immunity of Sablouh be lifted in order to prosecute him under article 403 of the Lebanese Penal Code. On October 5, the Tripoli Bar Association officially informed Sablouh that there had been a request from the military court to lift his immunity.
 
In addition, Sablouh has been intimidated while defending Syrian refugees detained by the General Security and at risk of deportation to Syria. In September 2021, Sablouh defended a group of six Syrians who were held at the General Security retention centre in Beirut and were at risk of deportation to their country of origin. General Security officers interrogated the detainees and asked if they knew him before and how Sablouh was appointed.

During this period, a colonel from the General Security phoned Sablouh, telling him that they had asked his clients whether they knew him and how. Sablouh responded that he was only doing his work as a lawyer, and the Colonel asked whether he was paid or not.

A few weeks later, Sablouh represented two Syrian brothers at risk of being deported to their home country. On October 2, 2021, Al Modon published an article about the General Security’s handing of Syrian refugees, including the case of one of his clients. The article extensively cited Sablouh and his client.
 
On October 4, the General Security responded to the article refuting all the allegations stating that Sablouh had “no right to issue judgments or distribute information that is out of source and inaccurate”. The response added that they welcome any call “for dialogue with international humanitarian organisations, especially in terms of helping Lebanon secure a third country of asylum for ‘terrorists’”. The same day, the government’s commissioner to the Military Court Judge Fadi Akiki asked Sablouh to come to court as he wanted to ask about one of the torture cases he had filed. As he feared this was a trap, Sablouh sent one of his colleagues. When his colleague arrived, Judge Fadi Akiki asked why Sablouh had not come. He laughed and said: “is there any arrest warrant against Sablouh?” – certainly referring to the fact that they had requested his immunity to be lifted so he could prosecuted.

Considering that the Lebanese authorities’ conduct in relation to the professional activities of Sablouh contradict paragraph 16 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, MENA Rights Group sent an urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on October 8, 2021.

MENA Rights Group calls on the Lebanese authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that human rights lawyer Mohamed Sablouh is able to carry out his legitimate work in Lebanon in a safe and enabling environment without fear of harassment, criminalisation, threats or acts of intimidation of any kind.

Timeline

October 8, 2021: MENA Rights Group sends an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers and on human rights defenders.
October 4, 2021: The General Security Directorate publishes a press release commenting on the work of Sablouh; the Government’s Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Fadi Akiki asks Sablouh to come to court in order to ask about one of the torture cases he filed.
September 28, 2021: The Military Court sends a letter to the Tripoli Bar Association requesting that the immunity of Sablouh be lifted.
April 14, 2021: The Director of the General Security makes threatening remarks about Sablouh’s documentation work.

Related